Friday, November 30, 2012

iMovie - a great app for combining short videos!

Have you ever wanted to take a few different video clips and merge them together in a short video?  That was the task I found myself wanting to do for a law school committee I am chairing concerning law school admissions issues.  One of the great strengths of the law school is the intelligent and accessible faculty, but it is hard to truly convey that to prospective students.  We know that if an applicant visits our campus and attends a class or meets with faculty members, the faculty make a lasting impression on applicants.  Slick, high production videos are nice, but, they are slick and high-production, something that in the era of tight budgets is not going to happen, and frankly might not convey the warmth and welcoming nature of our faculty.  Plus, how many faculty could we really profile in that kind of video? 

 So I decided I would try making short iPhone videos to introduce the dynamic nature of our faculty and the diversity of their interests and activities.  But first I had to find a way to do that was of sufficient quality.

I called my go-to person for all things media related: Justin Counts in the media resource lab.  In need of quick assistance, I told him what I was trying to do – merge three short video clips into one – and asked him what program he would use to do that.  That quick phone call led me to the iMovie App. 

iMovie on the iPad is very user friendly and is perfect for this kind of project (well worth the $4.99 price).  This is especially true if you use the iPad to take the video.  One simply “drops” the video clips into the project and selects the desired transitions between the clips.  It really is that simple.  In fact, it was so simple I decided to get a little “fancy” – I added a title screen at the beginning and a title screen at the end by dropping photographs into the project in those places, double tapping the photographs, and adding titles.  Again, super simple!

The one hiccup I had was that the sound levels were a bit variable in some of the clips.  This came from the fact that I was much closer to the iPad than the person I was interviewing.  So my voice was louder than the other person’s voice.  I needed to “level” the sound.  Again, my go-to person saved the day:  Justin introduced me to “levelator” –  a handy little program used by NPR (yes, that NPR) that can take a sound file and “level” the sounds over the entire file.  I guess it makes sense that NPR would have a need for such a program, given all of the field interviews that NPR reporters do.

Unfortunately, I ran into more problems with levelator and the file formats of videos from the iPad.  Levelator only can handle .wav or .aiff files.  So, again, with Justin to the rescue, we found a work-around. First we had to pull up the movies in quicktime and then “export” the audio portion of the file into a .m4a file.  Next, that .m4a file had to be saved into my itunes account.  Once we pulled up that file up in itunes we were able to convert it to a .wav or .aiff file.  Then we could use levelator on that .wav file to even-out the sound.  Finally, we were able to use iMovie to add a new audio track (the leveled .wav file) to the movie.  We then turned “off” the original sound track and just had the new sound track be the audio track for that clip.  Phew!  That was a lot just to level out the sound!  Lesson learned: the interviewer needs to speak softly so that the sound levels are similar.

I continue to be a big fan of iMovie.  So far I have created four videos introducing different faculty members.  They haven’t been fully vetted and released on the law school’s admission website, but once they are, I’ll be sure to post a link on this blog!

Submitted by Lydia Loren WITH LOTS OF HELP from Justin Counts!

Monday, November 19, 2012

not a pc, but..

... in another galaxy, far far away... perhaps, there is an iPad that replaces my pc... (Thanks Erin.  I related to your experiences.)
I haven't blogged for a LONG time, I was a little disgruntled after my experience during the summer.    I used Google Docs for the first time as an instructional tool for my students, and was sure the iPad would be a good complement.  Well, let's just say I learned a lot! Many of my students had iPads in place of laptops and had no way to use Google Docs because they hadn't downloaded any form of word processing application.  I should have planned for that but wasn't expecting so many to come armed with iPads to replace laptops.  What was I thinking? I ended up bringing both my laptop and my iPad to class and loaning them to students who didn't have tools that worked. 

Ultimately I have found the place where my iPad fits best in my professional life.  I take it to meetings, both on campus and in the field, and it is convenient, small and great to use for note taking, linking to web access for student transcripts and professional documents.  I've learned to upload everything I may need to Dropbox or to links on the college website.  That is convenient and I don't have to haul around a lot of paper.  I can live with the fact that the iPad isn't a pc, but when I travel around the state to teach and/or meet with students, I carry and use them both.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Saving paper with the iPad

Following up on Lydia's post from last month, I usually go to class with a powerpoint printout that has all the slides for the class plus my notes.  The packet is usually 40 - 50 pages (which I print out dual-sided).  I have started emailing the powerpoint file to myself and then accessing the slides in class on my iPad.  This saves a significant amount of paper (25 sheets a class * 26 classes = 650 pages per class per semester).  I am also trying to grade papers on my iPad as opposed to printing them out but this can be tricky. 

Not a PC...

I've read other iPad bloggers' posts with interest and a little envy, because so many of us are doing such wonderful things with our iPads.  When I grow up, I want to be a power-user too!  But as I'm still in my iPad infancy, my first blog will be a confession of the hard realities I've had to come to terms with as a new user.  The primary one is this: the iPad is not a PC.  It does all sorts of wonderful things that the PC cannot do--but it also can't do many of the things that a PC can.  And making that mental transition has been part of my challenge.

I had initially hoped to use the iPad to perform some of the routine tasks that I use a PC for in class, but with the increased flexibility the iPad.  Essentially, I wanted a less bulky, more portable PC on which to run the programs, tools, and documents that I'd already been using on regular computers.  I wanted to be able to fill in teaching charts that I've long used in MS Word on the fly with fresh data from my students in class, to work on articles and other projects wherever I happened to be, and I had big plans for the video camera.  Assuming I would need one, I went to the apple store to get a keyboard for the iPad and asked the salesman for advice.  The first thing he said, as we talked about options, was that it sounded like what I really wanted was a regular computer, and he warned me that no matter how I dressed it up, the iPad is not a computer.  (I left with a good protective cover for the iPad, but that was it.)

To confirm his warning, I later learned (greatly embarrrassed that I didn't already know!) that most of the programs I've been working in and hoping to use with my new tool don't actually work with the iPad.  I know there are apps I could use that would do the same things I've been doing on my PC, but that requires me to take all the work I've done in other programs and translate them to the new apps, and somehow coordinate them back and forth--a hurdle that just wasn't worth taking on.  I had hoped to use its camera feature to take videos of my students doing skills-based exercises in my negotiation class (which I normally do with formal video cameras and computers that can take a lot of work to set up), but then we discovered that it really doesn't hold enough video at a time to make it a viable replacement for our usual set-up.

So, I have continued to use the classroom PC for many of the tasks on which I'd hoped to use the iPad.  I have had great fun playing with the iPad and trying out the many touch-based apps that don't work on my PC--and I'm hopeful that I'll find new uses for them in my teaching and scholarship!  But so far, it has not taken over any of the computing-based tasks that I'd hoped it would.  I've told all of my students about the iPad and enlisted them in thinking of ideas for its use, and I've offered it to them for any project they can think of in which it could help them.  Hopefully, now that I've gotten my embarassingly slow start off my chest, future blogs will be able to showcase some more successful and creative uses!

Monday, November 5, 2012


I've learned a new word this semester: "gamification."  According to the wiki with the same name, it is "the concept of applying game-design thinking to non-game applications to make them more fun and engaging."  In the world of K-12 mathematics education, new apps appear every day that claim to enhance student learning.  Many prove to be "drill and kill" worksheets in an interactive form. Rarely do these elicit sustained student interest or foster new learning.  However, those apps that transform practice into a compelling game can have a significant impact.  "Motion Math" is such an app.  My pre-service mathematics teachers loved playing with it! As the name suggests, Motion Math requires the user to "steer" the iPad as part of the gaming process.  My students and I have explored a number of "math apps" this term.  We find that the rate of gamification decreases as the grade level increases - the result is less student engagement.  Our goal for the rest of the year is to articulate some game-based ideas for apps targeting Algebra specifically.  We plan to forward these to our friends at the Center for Algebraic Thinking, where developers are standing by.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Thumbs up to Cloud on and bluetooth keyboard combo

I love my laptop and it goes everywhere with me--to school and back home daily, to cafes and libraries, and occasionally on vacation.  My professional life is on the laptop.

But it is HEAVY and BULKY.  So on a recent trip to a professional conference, I decided to see if I could get by with the iPad instead.  I've been steadily migrating my teaching and research projects to Dropbox and many L&C committee documents are now on Google Drive so I can get most anything from the iPad.  The main reason I don't use it more often is because I really cannot stand to do more than a sentence or two of typing on the screen keypad.  I thought if I just gave it time, my fingers would acclimate but I still find it awfully annoying and iPad's autocorrect only makes it worse.  I'm a pretty fast and accurate typist and when I do make errors, they are usually small enough that you can still tell what word I meant to type.  On the iPad, however, autocorrect takes a simple transposition of letters or an unintended space and turns it into something totally nonsensical.  It's like reading Dr. Seuss (except it doesn't rhyme)!

For my iPad to replace the beloved laptop, I knew I would need a keyboard so I borrowed a bluetooth keyboard from IT. I'm still a PC gal, too, so on Kelly's recommendation I purchased the Cloud On app, which very nearly replicates Word, Excel, and Powerpoint on the iPad.

The combo worked beautifully. En route to the conference and in between events, I read and annotated PDFs (in Goodreader); wrote a proposal (in Cloud On's Word); accessed student blogs and forum posts, typed comments in Moodle, and recorded grades in Cloud On's Excel; and kept up on email.  The only unanticipated glitch occurred on Amtrak--although they have wifi access, it was either intermittent or it didn't support the degree of access I needed for Cloud On, which requires an internet connection.  If there is a way to do Cloud On offline, I couldn't figure it out.

When I returned home, work I'd completed in Cloud On was in my Dropbox or on Google drive and ready to access from the laptop again.  I'm not sure I will give up the laptop anytime soon--there are apparently still some features of the Office suite that aren't included in Cloud On, for example--but the keyboard and Cloud On combo were portable and effective for working on the road.